Monday, 12 November 2018

Remembering #Unitarians in Ringwood on Armistice Day 11th Nov 2018

We gathered under the Unitarian banner on Sunday 11th November for coffee shop church, and after we had had our contemplative time we fitted in a short business meeting and a social.

One of the freedoms of being a Unitarian group is that we can hallow all that we do, without having to feature a fixed structure or fixed elements into our gatherings, rites and rituals.  So today we included poetry and wordlessness, despite what was a rather noisy environment.  We started, though,  with a short poem by Mark Nepo  that we had picked up from the blog of Danny Crosby, the Unitarian Minister serving Altrincham & Urmston in Cheshire  And then we sat in wordless togetherness for some minutes, absorbing what the poem had meant to us.

I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from water and birds learn from sky.
If you want to learn about the sea, it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion, it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing, it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm without worshipping the storm.

Mark Nepo

On this special day that marked one hundred years since the ceasefire on Armistice Day, 1918, we also read out and remembered the names of the six Ringwood Unitarians who had died in the First World War.  Their names are painted onto the board still carefully looked after by the Ringwood Meeting House Association, which can be seen in the public exhibition at the Meeting House for the season of remembrance.  The first Unitarian congregation in Ringwood sold the Meeting House in 1976 but we are the second congregation and their natural successors, so it is very fitting that we should remember their fallen.

It seems that one name on the Meeting House board does not currently appear on the town War Memorial and there is research afoot with the relatives to understand why.  If a missing name has now been uncovered then it would be good to rectify that.  How sad that one hundred years has passed since the start of that war yet still we are finding people who had partially been forgotten.

It was moving, too, to be able to observe the two minutes’ silence together, and with everyone else in the coffee shop, the people in the arcade outside, and in the supermarket opposite.  We feel that it is not enough to remember the people who sacrificed everything for us.  We also need to spot any early danger signs of a new slide into world conflict, and to do our part by calling them out and challenging people and nations to live in peace together.

We are now looking forward to our regular gathering in December on 9th December at our new time of 10 a.m. in the Ringwood Meeting House.  After that we will next meet for a social after the Blue Christmas service we will be leading.

The Blue Christmas service will be a quiet contemplative service to make a safe space for those who do not find Christmas an easy time, for whatever reason.  It is open to all, on Sunday 16th December at 4 p.m., also in the Meeting House.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Change of venue and style this month for gathering of #Unitarians in Ringwood on 11 Nov 2018

The next gathering for reverence of Unitarians in Ringwood will be at 9.30 a.m. on Sunday 11 November 2018, at Coffee#1, 14 Meeting House Lane.  This coffee shop is opposite Sainsbury's, and facing the rear door to the Meeting House.

The gathering will be in the style of coffee shop church, with a reading and some moments of wordlessness as an opener, but then taking the form of a thoughtful conversation.  Or two conversations, or three, depending on how many people turn up and how many we can fit around the table.

Come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in quite the same state.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Round and round and round not necessarily a bad thing - Ringwood #Unitarians gathering for reverence October 2018

At our gathering for reverence today, we had readings Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verses 1-8, and chapter 1 verse 9, followed by two extracts from A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett.  We explored change in how we often return again and again to the same things; but we come back to them different in ourselves from how we left them.

We looked at how this is true in our spiritual and moral life for everyone no matter how good or bad.  And the take home thought offered was this: going back isn’t to be worried about, so long as we never give up on going forward.  Change is not in vain no matter how often things come full circle.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

How do we react when things don't go as we expect - Ringwood #Unitarians Sep 2018

Owing to a conjunction of unlikely circumstances, we weren’t able to meet at the scheduled time last Sunday.  We weren’t able to meet at all.

Which led me to reflect on two ideas: what do we feel and do when things don’t happen as we hope or expect? And why do we meet at all?

At the moment, I’m reading a book by a contemporary buddhist teacher, in which it is suggested that sometimes it’s easier to know what to do when a really drastic thing happens, then when it’s a small thing that doesn’t go as expected.  After all, if a person is physically hurt, you get them to a medic.  When water is pouring out of a burst pipe, you find a plumber.  But when a friend is late for a coffee, or the baker hasn’t reserved your bread order, there are a range of different things that can be done.  That range of choice can itself be paralysing.  And the choice we do make can reveal to us some truth or other about ourselves.

The buddhist teacher reminds me that we shouldn’t measure the quality of our lives through the big, drastic events.  After all, nearly everyone will help others under emergency situations.  Nearly everyone will rise to the need.  Whereas fewer of us react in a consistently graceful manner to the ordinary little grinds of life.  Yet if we can’t negotiate our way successfully, generously, humbly, through the little things that “go wrong” (if indeed that is a truthful way of describing them), then the occasional flash of emergency kindness and compassion, no matter how profound or far reaching, will not compensate.

Integrity, “one-through-ness”, is a quality of the best lives.  People are sterling who can be relied upon, who can be trusted, because they behave in the same style no matter the circumstances or context.  People are loved who don’t succumb to the stress of the moment, thus revealing a different side to themselves.  People who have integrity are able to live consistently owing to the hard work they put in, even when out of sight, to not being upset whatever comes, be it trivial, small or large.

And so we, who were affected by the non-meeting last Sunday, reflected on how we reacted when it became apparent that our gathering last Sunday was not to take place after all.

And, then, why were we to meet at all?  Why des anyone go to any kind of church these days?  I have just read the conclusions of some recent research by the United Reformed Church (a Christian church).  The research found that most non-Christians (61%) know a practising Christian.  They like them, and think they are caring, good-humoured and friendly.  A family member of mine, who is atheist and living in Spain, spent some time musing with me about a friend who is conservatively Roman Catholic, and who with his wife takes all the family to Mass every Sunday.  This Spanish chap, whilst being wealthy and positionally powerful in his work, is also one of the most patient and unassuming people.  Do people go to church because they get made good there?  Or, put perhaps more disparagingly, do they go because they get something there that makes them feel good about themselves?  Or is it that there is something helpful in the discipline of entering into a commitment with others, and sticking with it, trying again and again, session by session (not necessarily in a weekly rhythm), whether the point is immediately obvious or not?  If nothing else, surely we get more patient because our personal sharp edges are rubbed off as we roll along together, time after time?

We haven't actually talked about it.  So I can only guess that we each have decided inwardly that something about gathering together does us good.  Something about being with other non-saints.  Something about being with others who get cross-tempered and frustrated, others who get bored and struggle to hide it, others who are exhausted from the week’s labours, others who are fighting a physical pain, others who can find nothing to smile about, others who are having a really good patch, others who are just living a run-of-the-mill un-noteworthy routine.  Somehow the sharing of experiences and resonances; the sight of others coping where we ourselves have not perhaps coped quite so well; the chance to offer some warmth and a smile where someone so clearly lacks them; the simple, repeated, showing-up that we each do for each other; somehow these are the things that sometimes matter most about a community of faith.

Sometimes our faith is in each other alone.  Sometimes our faith is centred on the way of the universe/multiverse.  Sometimes our faith is in a woolly notion, such as a love, a clarity, an order that somehow underpins everything there is or could be.  Sometimes our faith is in the act of exchange that incontrovertibly takes place, without us ever quite understanding what it is or how it happens.  Sometimes our faith is that there is faith at all.

But one way or another, we meet in faith.  We bring ourselves, and we get changed by our gathering.  Even if we cannot say anything more insightful, we meet to express our faith in the internal change we experience.  And we express our faith by being constant, as we try to have that integrity that makes us equally patient, generous, warm, sensible, responsive and yes compassionate, wherever we are, whether we are in other people’s sight or not.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

First baby naming in Ringwood Meeting House for at least 40 years #Unitarians

After our gathering for reverence on 12th August 2018, the Meeting House became the host for a baby naming ceremony.  It was with great pleasure that we welcomed a couple, whose wedding in 2014 had also been the first wedding to be held in the Meeting House for at least forty years, with their son and the usual cohort of god-parents.

Our president involved everyone, inviting those of 11 years and under to come and change the ordinary tap water into blessed water for the ceremony.  The children each poured some water into the 90 year old font, then made it special by placing their fingers in the font along with their wish for the the baby being dedicated.  The assembled company asked for divine blessing on the water and, through it, the baby.

A happy occasion that we hope to see repeated in the Meeting House in the coming years!